The Book of Secrets
This novel by M.G. Vassanji (1994) is a subtle and complex postcolonial work about immigrants and exiles set in East Africa.
This novel by M.G. Vassanji (1994) is a subtle and complex postcolonial work about immigrants and exiles set in East Africa. The novel's multi-layered structure involves a retired Goan teacher of history in Dar es Salaam, Pius Fernandes, who is entrusted with a 1913 diary that details the experiences of an ex-colonial officer as a newly appointed British administrator on the Kenya/Tanganyika border. Fernandes sets out to tell its story but is ensnared by its plot and the ensuing net of intersecting stories, as his impartial search for clues to solve the diary's puzzles assumes a personal dimension. The events described in the diary connect with chains of events that span three generations and spread over three continents, and the novel explores the relationships between history, story, memory and the individual.
History is a living force that sweeps up its characters in an ongoing narrative; the novel itself, "a living tapestry to join the past to the present," foregrounds the related processes of storytelling and historical reconstruction. History is a book of secrets that can never be fully exposed; it can only be interpolated and passed on, and the reading and telling of history is neither absolute nor objective. Vassanji's novel also investigates notions of home and community and the insidious legacy of colonialism and war. The Book of Secrets won the inaugural Giller Prize for fiction.